The oldest shrine complex in the Kathmandu Valley, Swayambhunath Temple was said to have been built over 2,000 years ago. Situated at the top of a winding staircase, “Monkey Temple” has one of the city’s best panoramic views. The complex, containing multiple shrines and a stupa, is considered holy to both Buddhists and Hindus.
According to legend, UNESCO-listed Swayambhunath sprang up spontaneously from a lotus, a sacred water flower revered both in Hinduism and Buddhism. The iconic stupa—a gold, gilded spire jutting up from a prayer wheel-surrounded white base—is one of the site’s most popular attractions, but also not to be missed are the ornate temple interiors, filled with icons of Buddhist and Hindu deities. Many guided tours offer combination packages with other must-see sites—like Boudhanath or Pashupatinath—making it an ideal option for first-time visitors.
It takes only a minute to realize how “Monkey Temple” earned its popular nickname. Playful and high-energy, the temple’s furry residents have become one of the site’s additional attractions (although watch your food).
Things to Know Before You Go
- Sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists, Swayambhunath is one of the city’s top attractions.
- Knees and shoulders covered: make sure to dress modestly when entering shrines.
- Prepare for a tough climb and factor in breaks if needed: there are almost 400 steps to the top.
- Be careful when carrying food or personal belongings—monkeys have been known to snatch.
How to Get There
Swayambhunath is easily reached by most parts of Kathmandu by foot or taxi. However, you’ll have to climb up 365 steps to reach the hilltop temple complex. Many guided tours offer private pickup from your hotel, but vehicles can only park at the base of the staircase.
When to Get There
During the full moon in either April or May, Buddha’s birthday is celebrated at Swayambhunath and other Buddhist sites in Nepal. Losar, or the Tibetan New Year, takes place in February and March, and is a popular time for pilgrims to visit. Spring and fall are the mildest times temperature-wise, although Kathmandu is a year-round destination.
Swayambhunath temple complex was damaged during the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal, but reconstruction efforts are underway. Fear not, there is still much to see. The rebuilding effort has engaged a fleet of traditional artisans, and visitors can support local renovations by touring the site and showing interest in ongoing projects.